When we get back to the hotel room, I lock the dead bolt behind us.
I start looking around the room, our belongings strewn on the oor, our
“Start packing your stu,” I say. “Just throw it all in the suitcase, we’re out of
here in the next ve minutes.”
“Where are we going?”
“To rent a car and start driving home.”
“Why are we driving?” she says.
I don’t want to say the rest of it. That I don’t even want to go to the airport.
That I’m afraid they’ll be looking for us there. Whoever they are. That I don’t
know what her father did, but I know who he is. And anyone who reacts to him
the way that Charlie reacted to him is someone we can’t trust. He’s someone we
need to get away from.
“And why are we leaving now? We’re getting closer…” She pauses. “I don’t
want to leave until we gure this out.”
“We will, I promise you, but not here,” I say. “Not where you could be in
She starts to argue, but I put up my hand. I rarely tell her what to do, so I
know it may go south starting now. But still. She has to listen. Because we have
to leave. We should be leaving already.
“Bailey,” I say. “There’s no choice. We’re in over our heads.”
Bailey looks at me surprised. Maybe she is surprised that I tell her the truth,
that I don’t sugarcoat it. Maybe she just wants to be done trying to convince me
that I’m wrong to head back home. I can’t read her expression. But she nods and
stops arguing, so I decide to take the win.
“Okay,” she says. “I’ll pack.”
“Thank you,” I say.
“Yep…” she says.
She starts picking up her clothes and I walk into the bathroom, closing the
door behind myself. I look into the mirror at my tired face. My eyes are
bloodshot and dark, my skin pallid.
I splash water on my face and make myself take a few deep breaths in, trying
to slow down my heartbeat—trying to slow down the crazy thoughts that are
plowing through my mind, one of them nding its way to the surface anyway.
What have I gotten us into here?
What do I know? What do I need to know?
I reach into my pocket, palm my phone. I cut my nger on the shattered
screen, the small glass shards imbedding in my skin. I pull up Jake’s contact and
send a text.
Pls get back to me on this ASAP. Katherine “Kate” Smith. That’s her maiden
name. Brother Charlie Smith. Austin, Texas. Cross-reference for birth of
daughter, matching Bailey’s age. Name “Kristin”. Austin, Texas. Also check for
marriage certificate and death certificate. Won’t be reachable on my phone.
I put the phone under my foot and get ready to smash it. Even though it is
the only way Owen can nd us. It’s also the way anyone else can. And if my
suspicions are right, I don’t want that. I want to get out of Austin without that
happening. I want to get away from Charlie Smith and whoever may be with
him. But there is something gnawing at me, something I want to remember before
I disconnect us from the world.
What is bothering me? What do I feel like I should be nding? Not Kate
Smith, not Charlie Smith. Something else.
I pick up the phone and do another search for Katherine Smith, thousands of
links popping up on Google for such a common name. Some that seem like they
could be leading to the right Katherine but don’t: an art history professor who
graduated from University of Texas at Austin; a chef born and bred on Lake
Austin; an actress, who looks quite a bit like the Kate I saw in the photos at the
bar. I click on the link to the actress and pull up a photograph of her in a gown.
And it comes to me in a ash: what I am trying to remember, what struck me
at The Never Dry.
There was that newspaper clipping I noticed when I rst arrived at the bar.
The clip included a photograph of Kate dressed in a gown. Kate in a gown,
Charlie dressed in a tuxedo, the older couple bookending them. Meredith Smith.
Nicholas Bell. The headline read: NICHOLAS BELL RECEIVES THE TEXAS STAR
AWARD. His name was also beneath the clipping.
Nicholas Bell. Husband of Meredith Smith. She was in other photographs,
but he wasn’t. Why was he in so few photographs except for that clipping? Why
did his name sound familiar?
I plug in his name and then I know.
This is how the story started.
A young, handsome El Paso, Texas, Presidential Scholar was one of the rst
kids from his high school to attend college, let alone the University of Texas at
Austin. Let alone law school.
He came from modest means, but money wasn’t his motivation for
becoming a lawyer. Even after a childhood where he didn’t often know where
his next meal was coming from, he turned down all sorts of job oers from rms
in New York and San Francisco to become a public defender for the city of
Austin. He was twenty-six years old. He was young, idealistic, and newly
married to his high school sweetheart, a social worker, who had aspirations for
beautiful babies, but none (at the time) for fancy houses.
His name was Nicholas but he quickly earned the nickname The Good
Lawyer, handling the cases no one wanted, helping out defendants who
wouldn’t have gotten a fair shake with someone who cared less.
It is unclear how Nicholas went from there to becoming the bad lawyer.
It is unclear how he became the most trusted adviser to one of the largest
crime syndicates in North America.
The organization was based out of New York and South Florida, where their
top leaders lived in places like Fisher Island and oceanfront South Beach. They
played golf and wore Brioni suits and told their neighbors they worked in
securities. This was how the new regime operated. Quietly. Eciently. Brutally.
Their lieutenants preserved their stronghold in several core businesses—
extortion, loan-sharking, narcotics—while also moving into more sophisticated
revenue streams, like international online gaming and brokerage fraud on Wall
Most notably, though, they bulked up their OxyContin business long before
their competitors saw the opening there. And while these competitors were still
primarily shilling the traditional illegals (heroin, cocaine), this organization
became the largest tracker of oxycodone in North America.
This is how Nicholas wound up in their orbit. One of the organization’s
young associates found himself in trouble in Austin while distributing
OxyContin at UT-Austin. Nicholas managed to keep him out of prison.
Nicholas then spent the better part of the next three decades ghting on
behalf of this organization—his work leading to acquittals or mistrials on
eighteen counts of murder, twenty-eight indictments for drug tracking, sixtyone
counts of extortion and fraud.
He proved himself invaluable and got wealthy in the process. But as the DEA
and the FBI kept losing case after case against him, he became a target too. He
remained unafraid they’d nd anything that added up to his being anything
more than a devoted attorney.
Until something went wrong. His grown daughter was walking down the
street on her way home from her job, her beloved job. She was a clerk for the
Texas Supreme Court—a year and change out of law school, a new mother. She
was walking home, after a long week, when a car struck her.
It would have looked like any other accident, any other hit-and-run, except
that she was hit on a small street near her Austin house and it was a clear day and
it was a Friday afternoon. And Friday afternoons were when Nicholas spent
time at his daughter’s home, watching his granddaughter. Just the two of them.
It was his favorite time of the week—picking his granddaughter up from music
class and taking her to the park with the good swings, the park that was a block
away from where his daughter was killed. So he’d be the one to nd her. So he’d
be the one to see it.
His clients said they had nothing to do with the accident, even though he had
just lost a major case for them. And it seemed like the truth. They had a code.
They didn’t go after people’s families. But someone had done it. As vengeance.
As a warning shot. There was speculation that it had been members of a
dierent organization who were aiming to secure his services for themselves.
None of these details mattered to his daughter’s husband, though, who could
only blame his father-in-law. The fact that it occurred on a Friday afternoon
convinced him that his father-in-law’s employers were involved, one way or
another. And, regardless, he blamed his father-in-law for his deep entanglement
with the kind of people that made it a question in the rst place—that could
bring this kind of tragedy to a family.
Not that The Good Lawyer had wanted his daughter to be hurt. He’d always
been a great father and was devastated by her death, but his son-in-law was too
angry to care. And his son-in-law knew things. He knew things The Good
Lawyer had trusted him not to share with anyone else.
Which was why the son-in-law was able to turn state’s evidence against his
father-in-law and become the lead witness in a case that put his father-in-law in
jail while casting a blow to the organization itself—eighteen members of the
organization implicated in the sweep. The Good Lawyer carted o behind them.
The son-in-law and his small daughter, who would have only a couple of
memories of her mother—of her grandfather—disappeared after the trial, never
to be heard from again.
The lawyer’s full name was Daniel Nicholas Bell, aka: D. Nicholas Bell.
His son-in-law went by the name of Ethan Young.
Ethan’s daughter’s name was Kristin.
I drop my phone to the ground and smash it. I smash it in one quick motion,
kicking it hard with my foot, as hard as I’ve ever kicked anything.
And I open the bathroom door. I open the bathroom door to get Bailey and
grab our things and get the hell out of Austin. Not in ve minutes. Not in ve
“Bailey, we need to get out of here right now,” I say. “Just grab what you’ve
already packed. We’re going.”
But the hotel room is empty. Bailey is no longer there.
She is gone.
My heart stars to race as I reach for my phone to call her, to text her. And I
remember that I just smashed my phone. I have no phone.
So I run into the hallway, which is empty, save for a housekeeping cart. I run
past it and toward the elevator bank, the staircase. She isn’t there. No one is
there. I take the elevator down to the hotel lobby, hoping she went to the hotel
bar to get a snack. I run into the hotel restaurants, each of them, into the
Starbucks. Bailey is not there either. Bailey is not anywhere.
You make a hundred decisions. You make decisions all the time. And the one
you don’t think of twice shouldn’t get to determine what happens to her: Go
into your hotel room, double bolt the door. You think you’re safe. But then you
head into the bathroom. You head into the bathroom and trust a sixteen-yearold
to stay on the bed, stay in the room, because where is she going to go?
Except she is terried. Except there is that. Except she told you she didn’t
want to leave Austin.
So why did you believe she would go without a ght?
Why did you believe she would listen to you?
I race back into the elevator, race back down the hall. I am enraged at myself
that my phone is broken on the bathroom oor, that I don’t have it to text her.
That I don’t have it to turn on locations and track her.
“Bailey, please answer me!”
I head into the hotel room and look around again—as though she will be
hiding somewhere in those 580 square feet. I search the closet, search under the
beds anyway, hoping to nd her huddled in a ball, crying. Needing to be alone.
Miserable, but safe. How quickly I would take that! Miserable, safe.
The door swings open. I feel temporary relief. It is a relief I have never felt
before, thinking Bailey is back, thinking that I just missed her when I did my
frantic search in the hotel—that she did, after all, just go down the hall to get a
bucket of ice or a soda. That she went to call Bobby. That she found a cigarette
and went outside to smoke it. Any of it, all of it.
But Bailey isn’t standing there.
Grady Bradford is.
Grady is standing there in his faded jeans and backward baseball cap. His
He drills me with an angry look, his arms crossed over his chest. “So you
certainly went and made a mess of everything now,” he says.